Summit Reads hosts ‘The Shallows’ author Nicholas Carr in Silverthorne
If you go
What: Presentation by Nicholas Carr, author of the Summit Reads book selection, “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains”
When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 2
Where: Silverthorne Pavilion, 400 Blue River Parkway, Silverthorne
More information: Copies of this year’s book, “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains,” by Nicholas Carr, are available at the Summit County Library for purchase or to check out and at The Next Page Books & Nosh in Frisco. All attendees at the author presentation may bring their copies of the book for Carr to sign, and the book also will be on sale after the talk for anyone wanting one autographed. Contact the Main Library at (970) 668-555 to learn more.
Upcoming Summit Reads events
5:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 21 — Book discussion No. 2, North Branch Library, Silverthorne
5:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 5 — Book discussion No. 3, South Branch Library, Breckenridge
7 p.m. Thursday, May 21 — Panel discussion, South Branch Library’s Hopeful Discovery Room, Breckenridge
The 2015 Summit Reads Community Project has returned for a fifth year with events and discussions focused on the book “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains,” by Nicholas Carr. The author will visit Summit County for a presentation and discussion on the book on Thursday, April 2, at the Silverthorne Pavilion.
“We are very fortunate to have the Summit Reads book choice author in Colorado,” said Joyce Dierauer, Summit County Library executive director, in a news release. “We look forward to sharing his philosophy on the Internet with local residents and visitors.”
Carr, a Boulder author who holds an undergraduate degree from Dartmouth College and a master’s in English and American literature and language from Harvard University, spoke with the Summit Daily about his book and impact technology has upon us.
SUMMIT DAILY: Why did you set out to write this book? Why this topic?
NICHOLAS CARR: It came out of my personal life. I’ve been a technology writer and computer user for a long time, but around 2007 or so, I noticed that the way I was thinking — in particular, the way I was able to pay attention — seemed to be changing. I was having a hard time maintaining my concentration on any one thing for a long period of time.
When I began to think about it, I realized that my mind seemed to expect the kind of constant stimulation you get when you’re at a computer or looking at your smartphone, with lots of information and messages coming at you to click on and look at. When I tried to calm my mind down by reading a long book, I was really struggling with that. I wanted more stimulation.
That made me wonder, do the technologies we use change the way we think? That’s what led me to the research that ultimately led to the book “The Shallows.”
SD: What are we losing when our minds adapt to shorter bits of information and skimming rather than reading anything in-depth?
NC: It’s always been a challenge for us to pay attention, to screen out distractions and interruptions. You kind of have to train yourself, teach yourself to think deeply about something. Because the Internet and apps and our gadgets have been basically designed to bombard us with little bits of information, it’s now much, much harder to turn off the flow and train ourselves to be attentive. What we lose is the source of our deepest and most interesting thoughts.
It’s pretty clear from the research that only by paying attention, do you engage the higher faculties of thought — conceptual thinking, critical thinking, reflective thinking, even some kinds of creative thinking. They don’t happen when you are distracted; it’s when you tune out those distractions and focus and tune into one thing. I fear as individuals and as a society, we’re losing that ability to be attentive and, hence, tapping into those higher forms of thought. We’ve trained ourselves to be constantly stimulated with incoming information.
SD: Is it all bad?
NC: I think there are all sorts of things that are good about the Internet. The reason we use it so much isn’t that it’s causing us pain, it’s because it’s giving us pleasure. And I think that it’s hard to argue against the benefits of having easier access to more information than we used to tap into. Certainly the ability to communicate easily with friends and family who aren’t near you at the moment is a good quality of the technology. Even at a mental level, there are signs that certain cognitive skills seem to be improved. Visual acuity … seems to get better the more time you spend online.
But there are tradeoffs with all of those benefits, and that’s what I try to emphasize. As one of the scientists … said, the cost of these benefits of being able to collect more information more quickly is a loss in the depth of the way we think about these things — the ability to be carefully analytical, the ability to think for ourselves, the ability to get the big picture rather than just collect little bits of information. There are benefits and costs, but what I came to conclude is that the costs, at least when it comes to the vibrancy of our intellectual lives, the costs may be greater than the benefits.
SD: What was the most interesting or profound thing you learned while researching “The Shallows?”
NC: This isn’t the most profound thing I came across, but it’s a finding that really struck me early on in my research. That was the finding that when people read text with hyperlinks in them, as we do when we’re online, when you have links in a text you’re reading, your reading comprehension goes down, as opposed to reading the text in a book without the links. Even just those little links, an underscored word or words, turn out to be distractions. We’re not conscious of them being distractions, but our mind has to pause, break out of reading and ask, why is there a link here? Should I click on it, not click on it, what will be on the other side?
That tiny little distraction keeps you from getting the most of out of what you are reading. That really encapsulated that the distractions, even the ones we’re barely aware of, influence our ability to … read deeply. I went from there to finding all sorts of other evidence that all the other distractions and disruptions we surround ourselves with are eating away at our mental skills and our mental capacity.
SD: Why do you think “The Shallows” is an important read for our specific mountain community?
NC: I think what’s important and what the book achieves is to realize that the technology that we use, the tools that we use, do shape the way that we behave, the way we think, the way our children behave, the way our children think. All too often, we simply go with the flow and think that the latest gadget or the latest app must be better than what came before, must be something that we need to have. So we adopt these things and use them without questioning their broader effect on our quality of life, the quality of our experiences, the quality of our relationships with others.
If we begin to question the technology a little bit more, that will lead us not to renounce the Internet, smartphones, but to use them more wisely and give us more time away from the technology and pursue all of the ways of thinking that are available to us instead of letting the technology determine the way we think and the way we behave. The quality of our thoughts, the quality of our lives, hinges on our ability to decide what we pay attention to, how we use our minds, and if we let our smartphones make those decisions for us, we’re going to lose something really important.
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